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‘What I Wish My Professors Knew’
In the past, Maddie Wettach ’20 went to her professors’ office hours only when she had a specific question about coursework. But next semester she plans to go “more often to have a conversation.”
Her thinking about office hours has evolved, thanks to “What I Wish My Professors/Students Knew,” an ongoing initiative of the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning that aims to reveal how students and faculty feel about teaching and learning practices at Smith.
Wettach got involved with the initiative in her sophomore year as a member of the Student Government Association’s Curriculum Committee. After the group received positive responses to an initial survey inspired by “What I Wish” outreach at other colleges, Wettach decided to run for SGA committee chair, “and my whole goal was to expand on the project here at Smith.”
An economics and government major who is spending her summer interning with alumna Stephanie Mickle ’94’s public affairs agency in Washington, D.C., Wettach has long been interested in student engagement.
“At the end of the day, the Smith experience really comes down to having a student-centered approach,” she says. “Garnering the student response [to questions about the learning climate] is important to understand their needs—and also what we’re doing right at Smith.”
Working with the Sherrerd Center, the SGA committee surveyed students during the past two academic years with one simple question: “What do you wish your Smith professors knew?”
The responses touched on both in-class experiences and larger work/life pressures.
- “I wish my professors knew that I sometimes want to cry in class but I'm really trying to keep it together and calling on me some days just makes things harder.”
- “I wish my professors knew how to make classes more accessible to students with ADHD.”
- “I wish they knew how much I had going on!”
The surveys also included praise for the educational climate at Smith. “I wish my professors knew how admired and respected they are,” said one student. “Their insights and contributions to the campus community and the lives of their students are invaluable.”
Encouraged by the students’ work, the Sherrerd Center surveyed Smith professors about “What I Wish My Students Knew.” One concrete finding was that Smith professors wish their students felt more comfortable attending office hours.
The results of both surveys were presented at a teaching arts lunch in March, and a workshop during the college’s April 10 Day of Inclusion in Action.
“A real mark of success was that we had student and professor groups lingering on after our workshop,” Wettach says. “We want to keep creating these spaces where students and professors can talk to each other” about the campus learning environment.
Sherrerd Center director Floyd Cheung, professor of English language and literature and American studies, says the center will continue providing such opportunities—including new teaching circles based on the “What I Wish” survey responses.
“We believe that listening to one another will lead to better understanding and education,” says Cheung, who will begin work in July as Smith’s vice president for equity and inclusion. “We want this data to help inform our future programming and initiatives.”
For her part, Wettach says finding out that Smith faculty members want more students to attend office hours helped her think differently about her own participation in those sessions.
In addition, Wettach—who hopes to attend law school after she graduates— says the “What I Wish” surveys made her more aware of other academic and support resources available on campus.
In her senior year, she plans to stay involved with the initiative.
“The faculty want to listen to us and work with us,” Wettach says. “If we step up, we can achieve fantastic results.”